Occupying the kingdom of God

We’re in Boston right now visiting family, and to day I read this on the front page of today’s Boston Globe:

When Occupy Boston protesters complain about greedy bankers, corporate jets, and the wealthiest Americans, Henry Hegelson feels as if he is one of the prime targets.

Hegelson, 37, said he is not only in the top 1 percent of American earners, but also founded a financial company and an airplane charter business. He said the protesters don’t seem to care that he built his wealth from scratch….

In that last sentence we see the chasm that lies between the understanding of the occupiers and the wealthy: Hegelson believes that he created all his wealth completely “from scratch,” while the occupiers believe that the financial system is basically rigged in such a way that the vast majority of people simply cannot build their wealth “from scratch.”

I come at it from a third perspective. Theologian Bernard Loomer pointed out the intellectual accomplishments of Jesus of Nazareth, and in particular Loomer’s intellectual conception of the “Kingdom of Heaven,” which Loomer himself prefers to call the “web of life.”

Based on this intellectual conception of the way the world works — that we are all inter-related in a web of life — Jesus pointed out the damaging effects of wealth. Too much wealth cuts you off from other persons, and indeed from all living and non-living things, in destructive ways. If you want to be fully supported by and participating in the Kingdom of Heaven, you must get rid of wealth. Too much wealth leads you to exploit other human beings, other living things, and non-living things — to live counter to the Web of Life.

Thus, when the rich young man comes to Jesus and says that he follows all the rules of religion, wand wants to know what else he must do to have access to the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus tells him (as translated in the King James Version): “Go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thous shat have treasure in heaven.” The rich young man is “sad at that saying,” and wanders off and out of the story.

We never learn if the rich young man in the story actually sold everything he had and gave the proceeds to the poor. But we can be pretty sure that Henry Hegelson has no intention of doing anything of the kind; and so Hegelson has shut himself out of the Kingdom of Heaven. Unlike the rich young man, Hegelson isn’t even “sad at that saying”; he’s just baffled why anyone doesn’t think he is a hero.

Moving away from the humanist-theist debate

Tonight Amy Zucker Morgenstern, the senior minister at the Palo Alto church, and I led a class on humanism, theism, and naturalism, part of a series of classes we’re doing on current issues in liberal religion. We each began with a presentation on the topic; the text of my presentation is below. Our presentations were followed by a lively and enjoyable conversation with the 14 people who came, a conversation that ranged from metaphysics to demographics.

When Amy and I started talking about this class, I knew right away what I wanted to talk about: I wanted to talk about religious naturalism. I wanted to talk about religious naturalism because at the moment it is the only theological “ism” that I have any interest in associating with.

The reason I wanted to talk about religious naturalism is because in my experience it is the only theological position within Unitarian Universalism that doesn’t by definition shut out one or more other theological positions. Humanists and theists each want to shut the other group out, even force the other group out. Humanists and christian theists want to keep those doggone pagans out, and pagans, given half a chance, would shut out the humanists and christian theists. The Buddhists sit there smiling smugly at everyone else as if they have the real answers, and they’re willing to tolerate us until such a time that the rest of us get with their program. And so on.

This is all very fine and good. I like a good knock-down, drag-out argument as much as anyone. (Though I will admit I prefer theological bar fights to what academic theologians do — that is, I prefer an out-and-out fight with shouting, throwing of bar stools, and fisticuffs, to the refined intellectual backstabbing that is too often characteristic of the academy.) In fact, I think arguments are a lot of fun, as long as those who are involved are all basically healthy, and all basically want to get involved in the fight. Continue reading “Moving away from the humanist-theist debate”

Bernard Loomer reading list

I’ve been reading Jerome Stone’s Religious Naturalism Today, and through it I’ve gotten even more interested in theologian Bernard Loomer. Loomer is the theologian who probably introduced Unitarian Universalists to the web of life as a theological concept. But Jerry also points out that Loomer helped originate another concept that has proved invaluable in liberal religious social justice work:

[In 1976] Loomer also wrote a seminal article on the distinction between unilateral and relational power, which may be the first statement of the distinction between power-over and power-with…. [Religious Naturalism Today, p. 96.]

Jerry’s referring to “Two Conceptions of Power” by Loomer, published in Process Studies 6:5-32, 1976. I’m going to have to add that to my Loomer reading list, which already includes Unfoldings, two booklets of transcriptions of talks Loomer gave at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, and The Size of God, the long essay that revived religious naturalism when it was published in 1987.

By working through these relatively short works by Loomer, it looks like I can (1) gain a richer understanding of “web of life” as a theological and ethical concept; (2) take another look at a key ethical distinction around use of power; and (3) work through a key statement of religious naturalism that uses the concept of God without going beyond the world of nature. All this for less that 200 pages of reading!